Parent Tip of the Week: Control vs. Guidance

In the movie, Gandhi, there is a scene in which Gandhi’s wife refuses to clean the latrine. That duty is one which is shared by members of the community – no exceptions. She asks Gandhi why he wants her, his wife, to do such menial work. “It’s not me, it’s the principle,” he says. She still refuses and they get into a heated argument, with Gandhi stomping off in anger. Enslaved by the principle, he lost sight of what mattered – his relationship with his wife.

Gandhi realizes his error. “What’s wrong with me?” he asks himself. He goes off to apologize to his wife. She responds by cleaning the latrine! His transformation was the seed of her transformation. There was a direct relationship between the two.

That story illustrates the difference between principle and value. It reminded me of how we relate to our children – often based on teaching them a principle. We need to try to balance the teaching of principle with understanding and compassion. This story alludes to the issue of control and guidance. Although not specifically stated by Gandhi, he was trying to control his wife and instead, his control only served to alienate her.

When we relate as parents to our children, we need to keep our goal in mind at all times. The goal is for them to grow up into productive, healthy adults and to know themselves. We do that by guiding them, not controlling them. Guiding has to do with modeling, giving examples, and some teaching of principle. Guiding is also a learned behavior. No one ever taught us how to be parents. We repeat with our children the models of parenting we learned at home, because it was a learned experience. The great thing about learning is that we can re-learn if we want to. If our model in our family of origin was not the one we want our children to have, we can change it. We can give them our model, not our parent’s model. We can do our own reading, take a parenting class, talk to other parents, especially parents who have older children in order to find our model. We will feel better about our own parenting and our children will be the beneficiaries.

Written by ACS Staff


Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training

Sue Monk Kidd, First Light


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